How to stop terrorism
I know, we, the humans, are a species with great potential. We can very well achieve success in the war against terror, provided, we identify terror, our enemy, correctly.
What is Terror?
What is terror? Terror is nothing but a mix of violence and extremism.
Violence is nothing but forms of physical entertainment that remains enjoyable when within limits, gone beyond control. This can happen due to many reasons, like ignorance, wickedness or ulterior motives.
Now what is extremism? I agree, there is no easy answer. And I think the world is in constant grapple with this, as all governments think that they know the answer and take ‘appropriate’ action, compounding an already complex position.
What is Extremism?
Let us begin with a definition, since the first step in solving any problem should be to define the problem.
Extremism is nothing but taking a good or worthy idea (or an amusement!) to its limits, regardless of unfortunate repercussions, impracticalities, arguments, and feelings to the contrary, and with the intention, not only to confront, but also to eliminate all kinds of opposition to whatever one may choose to identify with. Also, it displays severe intolerance toward all views other than one’s own. (In fact the rather stupendous level of its effects is so arresting, we are always letting ourselves forget its humble, friendly and pleasant beginnings)
Except where it involves the adoption of means to political ends with total disregard for the life, liberty, and human rights of others, we are generally happy with extremism. It can in fact be said that as someone of consequence puts it: “.. Extremism, in the defense of liberty, is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation, in the pursuit of justice, is no virtue!” This, I think, is what makes extremism part of our society notwithstanding its peril and, sidelines the virtue of temperance, notwithstanding its appeal.
There is also another natural cause for its appeal. Take any of the ‘good’ occupations one may adopt to keep oneself busy, like writing, painting, scientific pursuits, etc. Until one has produced some results of public appeal, motivation to continue with the occupation has to come from within oneself. This, as one can imagine, is not at all easy, and more so, given the challenges of eking out a living. But if one decides to follow the occupation in its extremes, though worthwhile results might take a hind seat, public adulation and awe can take the place of a motivating factor.
Forms of Extremism
Well, let us see some of the ways people have chosen to hug Extremism.
Ethno-National Extremism: It is important to point out that Nationalism in itself need not become extreme- it’s just a focus on the nation or national identity, ethnic spirit or some other desirable symbol (think flags, anthems, the World Cup). Ethno-National extremists, however, have a particular idea of what they want in their nations, or how other nations deserve to be treated. Their vision for the nation often means just one identity (which normally excludes other cultures, colors, religions or ideas to them).
Other such movements may be adept at appropriating a mix of color, religion, ethnicity or locale to suit the moment, to remain relevant in a changing world. In the final analysis, any idea or belief can become extreme. Thus, scope exists for Political Extremism, Environmental Extremism, Animal Rights Extremism and many others, limited only by one’s imagination. These views may pose a threat to certain groups in society, even when not of a violent form.
In short, we should consider extremism as a part of our life, a part which has become uncontrollable due to certain reasons.
Is this right? If it is a part of our life, how did it attain that position? What metabolic need is met by extremism?
Let us go further and look at the different shades and styles of its appearance as well as the reasons for its proliferation. What role, if any, do we play in this?
We are not able to find the exact nature and causes of extremism, because we are yet to make a proper, unequivocal definition itself. To find out when and under what conditions does an abnormal act becomes fit to be termed as extreme, let us study how we respond to abnormal acts and, what reactions we show. For this let us classify all such acts into four groups based on two significant questions, one, whether the act is harmful and two, whether the act is rational. Thus an act can be rational and harmful, or rational, but not harmful, or not rational, but harmful, or both, not rational and not harmful. Remember an abnormal act can be from any of the four groups, but our response to that act depends on which group, the act belongs to. This is a simplified diagram showing the variations in our response to acts. Abnormal acts that cause in us, the desire to conquer, are the ones that lead one to extremism.
How do Extremism get Enabled
Take abnormal acts that are rational as well as harmful.
All the progress we made in human history is our efforts in handling such instances appropriately. Examples can be found in the way we conquered health problems, our planet and space or other challenges of science and technology. We are quick to identify abnormal behavior and take suitable action. Every act will be treated in a fitting manner, as long as it belongs to this group. We are quick to confront the issue, condemn it as appropriate and use all our resources to form a suitable reaction, like a new invention.
Take abnormal acts that are rational but, not harmful.
Many of our entertainment, social enjoyments, celebrations fall into this group. There are cases where people have attempted such acts beyond reasonable limits. However, no act will get termed as extremism if it belongs to this group. As long as the abnormal act is not harmful, we are beyond ourselves with accolades, in the form of great prizes, awards or other endearments, instead of identifying those also as another form of excess, say benevolent extremism. Hence acts will not be treated abnormal itself, as long as it belongs to this group. We are quick to detect the act and its harmless nature, and perhaps raise a global (endless) debate on its future to ensure that it is dealt with appropriately.
Take abnormal acts that are not rational, and not harmful.
In this case also, as long as it is not harmful, we do not show any opposition. And if such acts happen to be beneficial to society, we are again, beyond ourselves with accolades, in the form of great prizes, awards or other endearments, instead of identifying those also as another form of excess, benevolent extremism, as we saw above. All acts are celebrated, as long as it belongs to this group, as they endear us a lot. Not only that we enjoy such kind of issues, but these also are accorded special status of reverence.
Take abnormal acts that are not rational, but harmful.
Especially in this case, we are always eager to find a 'cause' for such acts. If that happens to have a link with religion, we will be competing with each other in ‘rationalizing’ the act, mostly, as a providential sign. Even when there is no attempt to support, we shall not be opposing this, as long as it remains irrational. At most, we may take some steps to avoid visible harm, if there is any. Here too, all acts are left untouched, as long as it belongs to this group. We are never disturbed by rational thoughts when we follow such issues in earnest, we are ready to overlook inconsistencies and are always in awe of the resulting flutter.
Thus we can easily note that we identify an abnormal act as extremist, only when it results in great and visible harm. If such acts happen to be of actual or potential benefit to society, we are beyond ourselves with accolades. In fact, many of the great prizes, awards or other endearments of the world are actually for celebrating such deeds. The right approach would have been to identify these acts also as another form of excess, say benevolent extremism. Instead, we find reasons for celebrating such acts even when those are harmful, as long as the harm is directed to somewhere else but our own backyards. Thus extremism originates in our love for the irrational, and as one can easily see, anything and everything can become irrational, when at either of its extremes, i.e., too much or too less.
To sum up, whenever we are confronted with extreme acts that are also undoubtedly harmful, our reaction depends on whether the acts can be termed as rational or not. If rational, we use all available efforts in dealing with that issue to its conclusion, mostly with the death of its perpetrators. For example an armed gang, if caught indulging in material pursuit, is swiftly brought to justice.
If irrational, again we are beyond ourselves in searching for a 'cause', and, if the cause can be linked with religion, we will be competing with each other in finding a justification for the 'acts'. For example the armed gang, if caught indulging in the same pursuit, but with certain abstract reasons, symbols or signs that can justify the need for material gain (like a command received as a dream), is generally held in great veneration and awe. Rather than bringing to justice, our desire shall be to find a place to accommodate them in our society.
The Root of the Problem
You see, as shown in the diagram, we deal with an abnormal or violent act appropriately, only when it is harmful as well as rational. On all the remaining occasions, we rather encourage such acts leading to greater consequences that beget more such acts. This should explain the ease with which, extremism spreads.
Now we can formulate a defense, and to begin with, let us define extremism as any act that is way beyond its rational limit. To continue, let us discourage all forms of extremism simultaneously, each one, of those involving violence, as well as of other benign forms, dealt appropriately. I find no reason to believe that substantial changes shall not follow. To put it bluntly, though, many of those getting excellent marks in studies, those who constantly create some sort of records, or those who show single minded dedication at the expense of their own comfort and well being, should come to be termed as benevolent extremists, and discouraged appropriatelty.
In short, terrorism, though, is rightly identified as the most serious problem affecting the mankind today, is the least understood of all our problems. Once we learn what is behind extremism, making our society safe is child’s play.